Dog bite liability is specific to each state in the U.S. It means the conditions of dog bite liability and the compensation to the victim will be different in each of the states.
The number of Americans that need dog bite treatment on average each year is 800,000. This is just the dog bite injury figure. It doesn’t include other forms of injuries caused by pets such as a dog knocking down someone over or causing an accident by chasing a motorcycle. The pet owners are liable for the injuries caused by their dogs depending on relevant laws and circumstances.
The dog bite liability of pet owners or their insurance companies is to compensate for the damages caused by their pet. The damages may include medical expenses, suffering and pain, loss of income, and property damage related to the incident. Examples of property damages include damaged motorcycle or eyeglasses, and punitive and multiple damages in case the pet owner’s conduct was questionable.
Let us understand the liability of pet owners in California for bites and other injuries caused by their pets.
California’s Strict Liability
California is among the states to have ‘strict liability’ laws. In other words, pet owners are strictly liable for most dog bites in California. The animal owner must compensate the victim for injuries, pain, and losses including medical expenses resulting from the dog bite. No pet owner can claim they didn’t know their dog could turn out vicious. The ignorance of unexpected pet behavior does not absolve the owner of the liability. Even if the pet owner took the best care to prevent the animal from hurting others, the law gives no respite to the owner.
There are some limits, however, under California law. The strict liability is valid only when the injured person was bitten. Further, and only when the injured person was in a public place or lawfully in a private place when the incident took place. For example, a person carrying out a legal duty such as delivering mail is on a private property lawfully. The exception to the liability clause includes the police or law enforcement dog performing law enforcement tasks, or defending themselves against provocative or annoying behavior (Cal. Civil Code § 3342.).
What constitutes a dog bite? A dog bite need not be violent. Grabbing someone with its teeth constitutes a dog bite. Dog bite need not result in breaking the skin to constitute the legal definition of dog bite. In a case, a worker fell down from a ladder because a dog held his pants by its jaws. The court under section 3342 held the animal’s owner liable for the resulting injuries (Johnson v. McMahan, 80 Cal.Rptr.2d 173 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1998)).
Injuries Resulting From Pet Owners Negligence
The victims of dog scare or dog chase do not fall under the category of dog bite victims. California’s strict dog bite liability may appear to render some victims helpless such as those that were injured but not bitten by a dog. The examples include those that are chased by a dog causing an accident that injures the victim. There are options available for these victims.
The injured victim has to prove that their injury was caused by the negligence of the pet owner. There have been many cases of unleashed dogs not biting the victims but scratching them or making the victim run for life or chasing their bicycle/motorcycle resulting in an injurious accident. These victims may not be the victims of the dog bite, but are the victims of negligent dog owners. The pet owners in all these cases can be said to have failed to use reasonable care to keep their dogs under control.
Laws on Dangerous Dogs
California’s strict dog bite liability applies without any consideration of the pet’s history. There is another law operational in California that requires pet owners to take “reasonable steps” to avoid the danger of attacks in the future if the owner’s dog has bitten someone earlier.
Any person can file a civil suit against a dog owner whose dog has bitten two individuals or the same individual in two separate incidents. The suit can also be filed against a trained dog owner whose dog may have injured someone. A single dog bite is enough to file a suit against this individual. The court can ask the dog owner to take steps to ensure there are no future attacks. This may involve asking the dog owner to have the dog removed from the area. The order can also be in the extreme form of having it destroyed. However, no civil suit can be filed against the dog owner even if their dog has a history of biting trespassers. Working police or military dogs are also exempted (Cal. Civil Code § 3342.5).
There is a distinct legal procedure in California for dogs that are a threat or dangerous. Law enforcement officers or animal control officers can move a petition in the court if a dog is dangerous in their opinion. The court hears the case to decide if the animal can be declared vicious or potentially dangerous. If the court decides that the dog is potentially dangerous, the owners meet certain conditions. The dog has to be kept indoors on a secured leash. The dog owner may also be required to keep the dog in a fenced yard outside the reach of children. These violations of the restrictions is punishable with fine.
When is a Dog Potentially Dangerous or Vicious?
A dog can be considered potentially dangerous if the dog has been aggressive enough on at least two occasions within the previous three years forcing people to defend themselves. These incidents should have taken place outside the owner’s property.
A dog is potentially dangerous also when it has bitten someone unprovoked causing a non-serious injury.
If a dog has killed or injured a domestic animal on at least two occasions within the last three years, it is considered to be potentially dangerous.
A dog is considered to be vicious according to California law if the dog injured or killed someone aggressively unprovoked.
The definition of a vicious dog also includes a dog that a court previously determined potentially dangerous. However, the dog owner didn’t meet the conditions directed by the court or in case the dog repeated its aggressive or dangerous behavior (Cal. Food & Agric. Code 31601-31683.)
California’s strict dog bite liability can go to the extent of criminal liability. Dog owners may face a criminal charge if the mischievous behavior of the dog was known to the owner, but they failed to control the pet. If their failure despite the knowledge of the dog’s mischievous behavior resulted in the killing of an animal or injury to someone, the pet owner would face a criminal charge. If the dog kills the victim, the crime is treated as a felony. In case the victim was only injured, the crime is either a misdemeanor or felony (Cal. Penal Code § 399.).
Insurance and Dog Bite Liability
Insurance companies are generally wary of insuring homeowners with dog breeds considered dangerous. Some of these companies may not even insure a homeowner if they own a pit bull. There are other companies that investigate on a case to case basis to ensure that the homeowner’s dog was not vicious. However, several other insurance companies do not track the dog record. They will neither look into the breed of the dog or the incidents of the dog bite. However, once the dog bite incident occurs, the insurance company charges a higher premium for the increased risk. They may not renew the homeowner’s policy or may exclude the dog from coverage.
Increasingly more insurers are taking steps aimed at minimizing their losses. Some of these companies have put in place a liability waiver clause, while others make homeowners pay a higher premium for select dog breed owners. Many insurance companies have a blanket policy of denying insurance to dog owners. There are still others that will cover a pet provided the owner has taken steps to modify the dog’s behavior or restrained their dogs physically.
Insurance Liability Claims
The liability claims of homeowners resulting from dog bites and injuries are alarming. According to the data available from Insurance Information Institute, the cost to the homeowner’s insurers in 2019 for dog bites and related injuries was $797 million. The number of dog bite claims is increasing year to year. In 2018, it was 17,297 that increased to 17,802 in 2019. There was not just the increase in claims but the average cost per claim also increased by 14.7%. While the average cost per claim in 2018 was $39,017 which shot up to $44,760 in 2019. The jump in average cost between 2003 and 2019 was 134% which is set to increase further in the coming years. This is due to several factors including increased medical costs, judgments, and the size of the settlements.
The largest number of claims took place in California out of all the states which have been a trend for some years now. In 2018, the number of claims in California was 2,166 which rose to 2,396 in 2019. Florida had 1,268 claims in the second position after California. The highest average coverage cost per claim was in New York at $55,801. The trend may likely increase because the potential severity of losses can be enormous with an increasing number of pet owners and their dogs knocking down cyclists, children, and the elderly.
What to Do When a Dog Bites
Most dog bites come from familiar sources including owners who could be a family member, a neighbor, or a friend. Dogs that have not behaved aggressively before may act violently. Injured dogs or dogs in pain, dogs with a litter of puppies, and the dogs that are frightened may attack unprovoked.
When a dog bites you suddenly, it may leave you confused and nervous. You may not think properly on the next course of action. Get immediate medical attention. You may start off with a basic first aid at home followed by an immediate visit to a doctor.
The doctor will examine the severity of the bite and clean the area. Depending on the condition of the wound, the doctor will begin their treatment regimen.
In California, both the dog owner and the victim of the dog bite must report the incident to the County Department of Animal Services. The animal must according to the law remain in quarantine for 10 days from the date of the bite. California’s law also requires dogs to receive the rabies vaccine.
The medical expenses of dog bite treatment can be quite high for even minor injuries requiring stitches. The cost can be prohibitive if the injuries are serious requiring plastic surgery.
Injured By A Dog? Contact The Oakland Dog Bite Attorneys At Quirk Reed LLP
Your dog bite attorney from Quirk Reed LLP is the next best intervention after the medical intervention that must be immediate. The Oakland Dog Bite Attorney’s legal and professional help will ensure you receive the compensation for damages caused to you. The dog owner and their insurance company will go to any extent to resist your claim. However, your dog bite attorney will establish that your injuries were caused by the dog bite, and the dog owner is liable for your injuries.
If the dog bite happened in the private property of the dog owner, your attorney will establish that there was a legal or valid reason for your presence there to sustain your claim. The dog owner may try to prove that you were a trespasser. Your dog attorney will demolish this claim with evidence.
If you were bitten by the dog in a public space, the case is already in your favor.
With years of experience representing hundreds of dog bite victims, Quirk Reed will stand by your case like a solid bulwark while you can peacefully recover.
Your Oakland dog bite attorney will collect evidence to disprove these accusations. Quirk Reed has years of practical experience representing victims of dog bites. We will take care of the legal aspects of your case so that you can focus on getting better.
Your attorney will ensure that you receive your current and future medical expenses. In addition, you deserve to be compensated for pain, suffering, emotional trauma, lost wages, disfigurement (if any), and loss of enjoyment of life.